Australia ride to safety on Ponting and Clarke tons
Australia 3 for 302 (Ponting 137*, Clarke, 111*) v Pakistan
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
On the day when he was voted the world's best cricketer of the past ten years, Ricky Ponting showed his use-by date didn't arrive with the end of the decade. Ponting and Michael Clarke each scored centuries in a merciless 231-run partnership that left Pakistan dejected, bereft of ideas, and rueful of yet another dropped catch that took their tally to 14 for the series.
In Sydney, Ponting was caught for a duck in the first innings when he hooked straight to the man on the boundary and this time, again without scoring, he whipped a Mohammad Asif bouncer from in front of his eyebrows straight to the man at deep backward square leg. Mohammad Aamer didn't have to move a single step but grassed the chance, slumping on the ground in dismay at his error.
Teams know that if they miss a chance to get rid of Ponting, they may not get another. And after Australia were 3 for 71 in the opening session, the bright start that Pakistan's seamers made after a third lost toss for the series was wasted. Soon, Mohammad Yousuf's defensive fields crept back in, Pakistani shoulders slumped and by the final hour, the bowlers were interested only in stopping runs with a wide-outside-off line.
But while Pakistan contributed to their own disappointment, Australia's captain and vice-captain deserve high praise for their concentration and determination to reach 3 for 302 at stumps with Ponting on 137 and Clarke on 111. Both men entered the match hoping to turn around personally fruitless summers: Clarke needed to show that he could return to his Ashes form and Ponting required a big knock to avoid his least productive home Test summer in a decade.
Ponting was scrappy early. His ears have been ringing over his favourite hook and pull shots, which he has struggled to middle in recent times, and today they were pounding in pain when he misjudged a hook off Umar Gul and was hit on the helmet. Several other horizontal-bat shots were missed or edged but he didn't put the shot away and after reaching his half-century nailed a beautiful pull for four off Gul.
Gradually, the Ponting trademarks returned: a textbook back-foot drive through point, a cover-drive on the up to the boundary, an aerial loft off the legspinner Danish Kaneria. His 39th Test century and his second at his home ground in Hobart arrived with a paddle sweep for two. Ponting's celebrations were serious and focused: a kiss of the helmet and a bat pointed at the stands, and not much of a smile. It was his first hundred since the opening Ashes Test and it silenced any growing concerns over his form.
At the other end, Clarke was watchful early but never looked scratchy. He has made several starts this summer without going on, but in concert with his captain he was keen to ensure a fine finale to the home Test season. Clarke drove and cut with aplomb, and in typical style used his feet brilliantly to Kaneria, who looked all out of sorts and rarely appeared likely to get a wicket. Clarke's 13th Test ton came with a quick single clipped off his pads from his 188th delivery.
Unlike Ponting, Clarke didn't give a chance and their wonderful partnership was their highest stand together at Test level, beating the 210 runs they put on against India in Adelaide two seasons ago, and Australia's highest fourth-wicket effort against Pakistan. They were a major frustration for Yousuf's men, who had shown a real spark in the first session. The match started in overcast, swing-friendly conditions and Asif in particular was a regular threat in the first couple of hours.
He ended Simon Katich's return to the Test side early with a lovely ball that pitched in line, straightened, and had the batsman trapped lbw on review for 11. Four changes to the team helped freshen things up and the debutant wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed, who replaced Kamran Akmal, pouched his first Test catch when Aamer drew an edge behind from Michael Hussey on 6. But sometimes, the more things change the more they stay the same and Pakistan's fielding remained poor overall.
On top of Aamer's drop of Ponting, Asif saw another opportunity evade his fielders when Shane Watson top-edged an attempted pull. Khurram Manzoor, another of the new men for this Test, and Imran Farhat ran back from the cordon but managed to collide with each other and miss the ball completely. Fortunately for Pakistan, that mistake wasn't crucial and Watson departed soon afterwards for 29 when he cut Gul straight to gully, where Farhat took the catch.
But the fielding degenerated again after lunch and misfields galore contributed to Pakistan's disheartenment. Ponting and Clarke don't need to be given such liberties.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo